Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

December 21, 2007


As part of their response to the sexual abuse crisis, the US bishops established a National Review Board, consisting of distinguished lay Catholics, to evaluate the causes and context of the abuse crisis and "the inadequate response of bishops and other Church leaders to that abuse". In February 2004, the NRB issued a comprehensive report of 149 pages that analyzed the backgrounds of those priests who abused minors and the malfeasance of many bishops by secretly reassigning miscreant priests.

Now the NRB has released its December 2007 report of success in establishing safe environment and educational programs, in vetting clergy and lay staffs of parishes and institutions, in setting up oversight structures, and in responding promptly to abuse allegations and reaching out to victims and their families. The report notes the role of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in completing one research project and continuing its work on a second. The Board acknowledges that there is much yet to be done. It sees the need to address the pain of parishes where abuse has occurred and to develop better communication among all concerned. More importantly, it notes the alienation of many priests of integrity from their bishops. We are all aware how their reputation and public standing has been severely damaged by the secret reassignment practices of abusers by many bishops. I might add that the bishops at Dallas, in formulating the Charter, held hearings where they heard from many bishops themselves, psychologists and psychiatrists, victims and their families, and from two prominent lay Catholics. Not one priest was invited to speak!

As the fallout from the scandal continues, serious deficiencies have appeared in the way bishops are handling allegations, especially those where a priest has been found innocent. This December 2007 report calls for "appropriate protection and restoration for those accused but later found innocent" and "for greater speed" in processing cases. Here in the NY archdiocese, it has been five years since the process was begun on an allegation against Father Charles Kavanagh, who is contesting it. The case has been in Rome, then the Tribunal of the Diocese of Erie (PA), and a decision is still being awaited. The lack of confidence of many priests towards the Church's judicial process is evidenced by frequently heard remarks that a decision is being delayed until Cardinal Egan, who has prosecuted the case, goes into retirement! Egan had effectively blocked one of Kavanagh's canon lawyers in Rome from remaining on the case. In other cases, the Cardinal has blocked certain canon lawyers from serving as defense attorneys for their clients.

In a subsequent posting on this blog, ARCHANGEL, I will discuss at greater length how the presumption of innocence for the accused has been neglected in some of these cases.